By Matthew Gourlie
Before the tournament, Rob Gale praised his players for not losing consecutive matches during this under-20 cycle.
If they are going to stay alive at the CONCACAF Under-20 qualifying tournament in Costa Rica, his Canadian side will have to show that quality — to say nothing of considerable skill and mental effort — to overcome Mexico on Monday (8:30 ET, facebook live).
“It’s important any time you’re in tournament football that you continue to raise the bar and raise your own standards as a team and what better opposition than the perennial powerhouse in CONCACAF in Mexico. It’s a great challenge for our players. This is the level they aspire to be at,” Gale, the Canadian under-20 head coach told Canada Soccer.
“They’re the level of opposition that you want to play against if you’re a young player.”
The painful reality for Canada is that even a win over Mexico and subsequent victory over Antigua and Barbuda wouldn’t guarantee them advancement following their 1-0 loss to Honduras that opened the tourament.
Going into the tournament, it was plainly obvious that the winner of the Canada-Honduras fixture that opened the event was going to go a long way in deciding not only the group, but who would advance to the World Cup in South Korea.
To that end, Canada started brightly and had the better of the possession in the early stages and showed some quality in the first half.
However, they failed to turn some good build-up into quality chances.
In the end, substitute Jorge Alvarez decided the match with a 76th minute strike to give Honduras a 1-0 lead.
Canada had possession 54 per cent of the time, completed 53 more passes and completed a higher percentage of those passes, but it was Honduras who had the better goal-scoring opportunities.
Foslyn Grant had the best chance of the first half, but his back-post header grazed the outside of the post. Honduras had even better chances in the second half, but Douglas Martinez missed an open header at the hour mark after getting between Canada’s central defenders. Less than 10 minutes later, Darixon Vuelto got behind Kosovar Sadiki and went in clean Thomas Hasal, but his chip went just wide of the post.
With Honduras dominating the second balls in the second half, a breakthrough felt like it was coming and Alvarez supplied it as he lashed Thomas Meilleur-Giguère’s clearance into the bottom corner from 30 yards out.
Two minutes later Luca Uccello hit a similar shot from a similar distance, but Honduran keeper Javier Delgado was able to palm it away.
Despite the loss, the Canadian players spoke about re-focusing and embracing the challenge ahead of them.
Meilleur-Gigèure, who captained the side Friday, said he felt that if they played the same way they did against Honduras they would create some chances against Mexico. They key was taking those chances. He felt if they could get a lead that would make a big difference and allow them to counter attack.
“We have to have no fear going into these games. We say: ‘go in without fear and come off without regret,’” Gale said. “If we stick with the game plan and the tactical objectives, they’ll always give you a chance. We need to take our chances at the right time and be very disciplined and organized. But, for sure, we have every opportunity.”
Mexico cruised to a 3-0 win over Antigua and Barbuda in Friday’s nightcap.
It took Ronald Cisneros 98 seconds to open the scoring for Mexico. An Antiguan own goal in the 15th minute doubled the Mexican advantage and they rarely needed to get out of second gear the rest of the way.
Cisneros scored his second before half as he and his Santos Laguna teammate Eduardo Aguirre formed a dangerous partnership up front.
Uriel Antuna was dangerous on the right flank and Mexico’s versatile standout defender Diego Cortes played at right back and formed a dangerous partnership.
Diego Aguilar on the left flank created the first goal and was also dangerous.
Canada: Hasal; Brault-Guillard, Sadiki, Meilleur-Giguère, Boakye; Fraser; Millar (Sigue 83), Uccello, Borges (Zambazis 75), Twardek; Zanatta (Hundal 62).
Honduras: Delgado; Garcia, Andrade, Maldonado, Decas; Grant, Pineda, Reyes (Alvarez 57), Martinez; Vuelto (Quiroz 93), Cruz (Rodriguez 72).
Referee: Oscar Reyna, Guatemala.